“It was the last day of last year, 31st December, 2012. I left my house sharp at 9.20 am, a crispy semi-wintry morning and took a direct rickety-blue-tin-bus ride to Shyambazar from Salt Lake and walked the Sunday special pet-bridge, called lovingly so by me, and reached Women’s College, Baghbazar under half an hour.
Upon wrapping up my three hours teaching assignment, I switched on my mobile phone to find out that I was expected at yet another educational institution post 2 pm. This one was located in the complete opposite end of the city. I wondered which way to take — tram to somewhere then a bus and an auto? No, that would be too many breaks. How about a walk to the tube-station to tube it to almost-there and then an auto…aaargh, I was way too lazy for the tube station stairs. I kept walking as I was calculating the most resourceful means of indulging in my laziness, when I found myself in the cacophony of conductors yelling to themselves about their lunch session.
I had stumbled upon the 240 bus-station. It must be here mentioned that from the time I came to Calcutta (yes I still cannot bring myself to call it Kolkata), I always desired (along with a good friend) to take a complete tube-ride, which would mean something like travelling from Dumdum to Tollygunge (the overground metro wasn’t constructed then) and back, with no purpose! The purpose would be undertaking and completing the ride itself. It hasn’t yet been, sadly.
Anyway, so I stumbled upon the 240 bus-station and almost as if it were always meant to be, I ignored the back-pain it could entail and hopped on and sat in the last seat (an eternal favourite), to begin my journey from North to South! And with no changes mid-way. I was so happy that I completely forgot to inquire how long the journey would take.
The bus began rattling along with the music from my ear-phones. It turned right from Manindra Nath College and my series of I-AM-SURPRISSSSSSSEDDDD started when my eyes set on the once-I-had-heard-of ‘Boroline House’ on Girish Chandra Avenue which wouldn’t be an event to record unless of course its walls weren’t acrylic painted, and the spotlessly clean shop of (at least from outside) and called Nobin Chandra Das ‘inventor of rossogolla’. I conditioned to open my eyes w–i–d–e to drown in more interesting sights and sounds. And then the next lightning struck when I found out that Jaipuria College was on the same stretch. It wouldn’t be quite that enlightening unless I hadn’t been advised to reach Women’s College via Girish Park, something which I could from Shobhabazar itself! Huh. And then the bus reached the famous kosha-mangsho five-point crossing.
My 240 next treaded upon the Hatibagan/Bidhan Sarani road, with trams trolling an inch apart and people selling their wares the other inch apart, crossing Scottish Church College, Bethune College and Nokur (the GRAND sweetshop). It then took a left and I then realized the lo—oong route it was going to undertake via all possible corners of Calcutta. I geared my patience to its best standards and smelled in the familiar smell once the bus turned right into Amherst Street/Maniktala. The smell was of familiarity, of bulging stomached men sitting on raised white mattresses, surrounded by iron and steel bars. This went on for sometime till I crossed North City College on my right and after about a minute crossed St Paul’s College on my left, to turn left. The bus then got up on the great Sealdah Bridge. The ‘Sealdah’ bit of it was screaming out from the station’s hoarding. It is monumental, the queue-the energy-the time showing on top. The constant crowd too.
For some weird unexplained reason I always believed that Moulaly-Entally cannot be availed by anything other than mini-buses. I was obviously wrong as my 240 zoomed in by the curvy lanes of Moulaly past Sealdah and I saw this fair of shoes drooping down to the street — shoes, sandals, belts, wallets — to take me into Entally now (without wearing a pair). And having passed a cancer hospital with people smoking incessantly and buying fresh cut-fruits served in leaf-plates outside it, I realized I was approaching CIT Road’s Ladies Park. This I mentioned because I always wondered what were the stories behind the nomenclature of institutions like ‘Women’s College’, ‘Ladies Park’ etc. I still haven’t found mu curiosity quenched. And suddenly, the haloed-handsome DBPC (Don Bosco Park Circus) circle was turned towards the snooty Lady Brabourne College stop. The bus halted for the maximum duration here, Park Circus.
Till here the observations were very, very unique, everything had something to speak, something of its own. I next got onto APC Road and the language changed. Constructions, tall scrapers, offices, and well-lit branded shops led onto Ballygunje Fnaari, a borrowed identity, I can see anywhere in the world! We went past South Point School’s unimaginable narrow lane and onto Gariahat Bridge. Now then, I did manage to look below into the serpentine stop of coloured cars, buses and autos waiting at Calcutta’s happiest-signal, and many-many banners, perhaps the most bengali ones — this saree shop and that, to land into a sudden peace brought over by the imposing RKM Institute of Culture’s building. I have forever loved its colour. Grey.
South City College was left behind and I got up on the Dhakuria Bridge intently looking at the AMRI site. By now I was trying to finger count the number of colleges I saw courtesy one bus-ride when the bus had to stop mid-bridge owing to a jam in a manner in which I could look out of my window directly into the remnants of broken windows and an achingly silent hospital premise. Any hospital is not a happy-feeling. This one, particularly, reminded me of a known demise. But the weight of the sorrow seemed to be present in the unknown demises too. Something happened and I could not focus on the rest of the journey across Dhakuria-Jodhpur Park-Jadavpur PS anymore.
I found the city celebrating the coming of a new year starkly contrast in to the AMRI incident. Some deaths are so deadly. If one lives one must die, yet, sometimes the most tragic ends come as accidents, which could be avoided. I pray for those families, there is nothing else I can possibly do. I also wish to somehow spread consciousness about safety, cleanliness and tolerance. I guess peace and happiness would naturally follow. But like most things I know not, this too I do not.
My one long cherished desire of completing one full ride was over in the next 5-7 minutes. But the journey somewhere effected me in layers. My city survives every single assault it faces — of dangerously dilapidated houses to fire mishaps. It perhaps survives it all with the renowned sweetness of simplicity that is spread over the city in sweet-shops, or with its passion rolled in roll-shops, or with the ease with which tea is available at every nook and corner at less than two bucks, or the education once again not concentrated on one part of the cityscape.
It was such an enriching ride, in directions of the roads, and thoughts.
January 3rd, 2013.”
I had tried to essay the wonder of a simple bus-ride couple of years back. On returning to read it earlier this evening, I was tediously overjoyed to find that the roads have remained the same, even though I have graduated into someone who would hardly board a 240 now. I had come and joined this city as an undergraduate and I have now graduated to a role in life where I teach undergraduates. What does a memory do? Wake one up into the present, after a sound feed of lived past. Amidst all the dissatisfaction I have for my city, I like its character. It is aging and old. I teach at Scottish Church College now, and the roadside tea costs more than five rupees per cup and I do not drive to college in order to avail the tram – receding the pace of life all around it. A deliberate pause to take in all of life – faces, stories, journeys. The road is ready to give more than you can sometimes take in.